The opioid epidemic demands bipartisan action

These days, when you order a package for delivery, you can easily track it in real time. Whether it’s a pizza delivery or a package from Amazon, you’re almost always able to see where your item is in the shipping process and when you can expect to receive it.

Why, then, are massive, suspicious shipments of opioids, which are ravaging our country and leading to overdoses and deaths in Colorado, Delaware, and everywhere in between, allowed to fly under the radar?

The answer is that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – the only federal entity that can track suspicious orders of prescription drugs – doesn’t have the tools and authority to track opioid shipments in real time, including many that are being sent or diverted to drug dealers instead of pharmacists and physicians. To make matters worse, the pharmaceutical industry’s requirements to ship drug orders are almost non-existent.

We think it’s time to change that.

A few years ago, the DEA discovered that a major drug company was shipping enough prescription drugs to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado for every man, woman and child to have 30 to 60 pills per month. Many of these shipments, of course, were being diverted and stolen, and ending up on the streets. Delaware’s Attorney General has highlighted that, of the 860,000 opioid prescriptions issued in Delaware each year, up to 110,000 may be diverted to illicit use. These aren’t uncommon accidents. This happens all across the country.

The problem is that right now, no one in the system—neither the DEA nor drug manufacturers and distributors—can detect new patterns of suspicious orders in real time as they develop. The database the DEA and industry actors rely on is woefully out-of-date, and industry is only required to update it once every three months, even though it can take a year or more before the data is even ready to be analyzed. In short, by the time anyone can flag a suspicious large order of prescription drugs, including opioids, it’s too late.

That’s why the two of us, a Republican from Colorado and a Democrat from Delaware, introduced S. 2686, the Suspicious Order Identification Act, to ensure the database of large drug shipments is updated in real time and require the DEA to implement a system of real time tracking.

The opioid epidemic is one of the single greatest public health crises of the modern era. We’re losing as many Americans each year to overdose deaths as we lost in the Vietnam War, and we’ve actually seen a reduction in the overall life expectancy for Americans because of the number of people who are dying from heroin, fentanyl, and opioid overdoses.

This epidemic is ravaging families and communities across the country, and, without attention at the federal level, we will not be able to stem its tide.

Members of both parties came together to pass the SUPPORT Act, signed into law last year, which is improving our ability to tackle addiction and abuse through health care treatment and law enforcement. The legislation funds and supports first responders, enhances overdose surveillance and prevention measures, funds state monitoring programs, and expands disorder treatment options. It’s a great first step, but there’s more that needs to be done.

We believe our bill will make a real difference by shoring up our drug supply chain, eliminating blind spots that criminals and drug dealers exploit, and keeping our communities safe and healthy.

The American people want – and deserve – their elected officials to work together and try to solve the problems our communities are facing.

There are few bigger problems in the United States today than the opioid crisis, and we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to solve it. There are plenty of ways to do that, but we think tracking the opioid shipments that are allowing dangerous drugs to get in the wrong hands should be at the top of the list.


U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Chris Coons (D-DE)

The Hill